CETSHWAYO, ka Mpande, King of the Zulus
Plaque erected in 2006 by English Heritage at 18 Melbury Road, Holland Park, London, W14 8LT, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
CETSHWAYO c.1832-1884 King of the Zulus stayed here in 1882
There is also a LCC plaque to William Holman-Hunt at the same address.
King of the Zulus during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, Cetshwayo experienced defeat, imprisonment and restoration at the hands of the British Empire. His visit to London in 1882, during which he stayed at 18 Melbury Road in Holland Park and met Queen Victoria and the Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone, was a significant episode in his dramatic story.
WAR AND EXILE
Cetshwayo kaMpande (sometimes transliterated as Cetewayo or Ketchwayo) was the son of a Zulu prince. He took control of Zululand (in present day South Africa) in 1856 after defeating his younger brother, and was officially crowned king after the death of his father in 1872.
As the most powerful native ruler in the area, King Cetshwayo was regarded with grave suspicion by the British and, despite Cetshwayo’s reluctance to engage in conflict, a substantial British force entered Zululand in January 1879.
The ensuing campaign saw the worst British defeat at the hands of an indigenous opponent when the camp at Isandhlwana was attacked by 24,000 Zulu warriors. However, the Zulus were finally defeated on 4 July and Cetshwayo was taken prisoner and exiled from Zululand.
For many, the Zulu war is remembered as a dark moment in British history – a conflict deemed ‘unjust and unnecessary’ by the Earl of Kimberley in 1882. While Cetshwayo was held captive in Cape Town, rumours began to circulate that the ex-king would be allowed to visit Britain. The potential visit was hotly debated in Parliament and the Earl of Kimberley strongly defended Cetshwayo, regarding him as a ‘remarkable man’ with ability and ‘great influence’.
And so, on 4 August 1882, Cetshwayo docked at Southampton and travelled by special train to Kensington. On his arrival, 18 Melbury Road – one of a pair of semi-detached houses dated 1877, now grade II listed – was made more appropriate to his needs and those of his chiefs. The beds, for instance, were reduced to floor level. On waking on 5 August, the ex-king ‘made his way through the various rooms of the house, examining them with curiosity’.
Outside, a huge crowd of people had gathered, eager to see Cetshwayo. The Times described how ‘at times the ex-king would appear for a moment at one of the windows, and he was invariably greeted with cheers’. Cetshwayo himself looked upon the throng ‘as a display of friendly feeling towards him’. By the close of his visit, he had become something of a celebrity.
In an interview given while at Melbury Road, Cetshwayo said that he regarded the war as ‘a calamity’. He had made it clear that the purpose of his visit to England was his restoration to the throne, reasoning that his people wanted him and that there would be another war if he didn’t return. Following a meeting with Gladstone and a visit to Queen Victoria at Osborne House, his reinstatement was agreed.
THE RETURN TO ZULULAND
Cetshwayo was returned in secret to Zululand in January 1883. However, he was unable to prevent factional fighting turning into a gory civil war, and he and his 15-year-old heir, Dinizulu, were forced to seek refuge in a reserve controlled by the British. Cetshwayo died on 8 February 1884, officially from a heart attack, though some suspected poisoning. Two months later, Dinizulu was proclaimed king.
Cetshwayo’s plaque at 18 Melbury Road rests immediately above that to the painter William Holman Hunt, thus forming a rare ‘double blue’.